Animal husbandry officials rush to Pong Dam Lake perimeter to do damage control.

A day after samples of dead migratory birds found at Pong Dam Lake in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza, or bird flu, state animal husbandry officials rushed to the area around the lake sanctuary in a bid to contain the flu from spreading to domestic poultry birds.

The number of migratory waterfowl, mostly Bar-Headed Geese, found dead in the lake area rose to 2,700 on Tuesday, with the counting of more carcasses underway till the filing of this report.

“Our priority at this stage is to ensure that the infection does not spread from migratory birds to domestic poultry. Rapid response teams have begun collecting samples of poultry within a radius of 10 km from the periphery of the lake, i.e. the surveillance zone, which has backyard poultry farms as well as a few larger ones. Fortunately, there has so far been no report of any unusual sickness or death among the poultry in the area,” said Animal Husbandry Deputy Director (Epidemiology) Dr Munish Batta. Poultry samples are being sent to the northern regional disease diagnostic laboratory in Jalandhar, he added.

On Monday, the district administration banned all human and livestock activities within an area of a kilometre from the lake’s periphery, and prohibited the slaughter, sale, purchase and export of any poultry, birds, fish and their products in Fatehpur, Dehra, Jawali and Indora subdivisions of the district which surround the lake. Shops selling these products have been ordered shut.

Dr Batta said that the national bird flu action plan (action plan on preparedness, control and containment of avian influenzas issued by the union department of animal husbandry) has been set in motion in the state, and the frontline field staff provided with adequate PPE kits, masks, gloves and preventive medicines. Wildlife, veterinary and other officials in the state have been asked to report any unnatural behaviour or death of wild/domestic birds or animals.

Bar-Headed Geese, the flu victims, are known for their iconic high-altitude flight

An international Ramsar site (a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention), the Pong Lake or reservoir stretches to an area of nearly 25,000 hectares and attracts over a lakh migratory birds each year. Each day for the last week, hundreds of birds are being found dead around the lake – mostly Bar-Headed Geese who make up a bulk of the migratory birds. Each winter, flocks of these geese leave their breeding grounds in Central Asia, Mongolia and Russia and arrive in the Indian subcontinent, generally flying at 5,000-6,000 metres above sea level and sometimes even higher while crossing the Himalayan ranges. Their special ability to sustain flight in an oxygen-thin altitude has long confounded biologists.

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